By Léo Azambuja

Leo 1Do you know what The Kite Runner author Kahled Husseini, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Army Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Peter Lemon, actor Andy Garcia, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel and astronaut and rocket scientist Franklin Chang Diaz have in common besides being American citizens?

They’re a few of the many recipients of the Outstanding American by Choice award, given annually by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to those who were not born in this country, but who chose to become American citizens.

Yes, each of these outstanding Americans is an immigrant.

Without immigration, we would not have the country we have today. Just imagine the U.S. without the likes of Albert Einstein or Nikola Tesla. But those are just a couple of geniuses. This nation is made of everyone who lives here, including natural-born citizens, immigrants who have been granted legal residency or American citizenship as well as those who are still illegally living here.

There, I said it, “illegally.”

I’ve heard people say they don’t have a problem with legal immigrants, but with those who are illegal. So, if the problem is with illegal immigrants, let’s legalize their status, simple as that.

President Barack Obama — whose Kenyan-born father was forced to leave the country in 1964 — is not opening the borders to illegal immigration. Instead, he is offering a chance to those who have already been here to go through a legal process, which includes a series of conditions, to attain legal status.

The discussion on whether legalizing illegal immigrants would tip the scale toward either a deficit or a surplus in government is as much a moral issue as it is a social and economic one.

Economically speaking, one of the first studies on the subject, released in 2004 (and likely outdated) by the Center for Immigration Studies, concluded government costs would “increase dramatically because unskilled immigrants with legal status — what most illegal aliens would become — can access government programs, but still tend to make very modest tax payments.”

However, looking at the issue as a social one, deporting all illegal immigrants would have a drastic effect. Who would work for such low wages? I’ve witnessed with my own eyes entire upscale neighborhoods in the West Coast being built by illegal immigrants, mostly Mexicans.

I’ve also witnessed many small businesses on the Mainland, from flower shops and pizza joints to restaurants and large stadium concessions, from landscaping sites to boat maintenance and marina upkeep, largely dependent on illegal immigrant labor.

Deport everyone and I doubt we would have enough workforce willing to fill all those jobs.

On the moral side, should we keep illegal immigrants as poor and dumb as we can, all for the sake of government surplus? I’ve heard people say we should deny schooling to American-born children whose parents are illegal. So, should we deny those children — natural-born American citizens — a right to become better citizens based on choices made by someone else, their parents? It’s just as bad and revolting as racism.

And going full-circle to economics, keeping the population dumb and poor will result in a country dumb and poor in no time.

What is really sad is that if we look at the broader picture, we are all prisoners of imaginary lines. We should be able to enjoy our planet Earth, its natural beauty and diversity of cultures, regardless of our religious beliefs, skin color, language or fictional lines drawn to separate us from each other.

One small step toward becoming outstanding Americans ourselves is to support Obama’s immigration reform, which is not perfect but is a starting point.

Maybe one day we all will become outstanding humans, citizens of planet Earth.

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